Laptop doings

well ... bum.
HP Pavilion DV2. Well… bum.

There’s a sweet old lady I help out with her computer. Just before Christmas she phoned and the problem was thus: her laptop, just two years old, was dead. Dead, in that it did everything it should except display it. The monitor was kaput.

Now I’m not, by any stretch of imagination, a computer tech. I’ve put together towers, but really, that’s more like lego. Laptop’s no, primarily because you need weency fingers and a lot of spare screws. Anyhow, I trundled her laptop up to the local computer shop and almost before I’d opened my mouth they said ‘HP? Pavilion? Oh dear. Hmm, too expensive to fix even if we new what was wrong with it, though it’s probably the GPU (graphics processing unit). The best thing is to bin it.’

Can you say ‘built in obsolescence!’

The result was that, since she didn’t need a laptop as she wrote at home, the sweet old lady bought a new tower and asked me to dispose of the ‘wretched thing.’

Now, I’m not a horder. But I’m keen on ‘projects.’ Besides, it was an immaculate HP Pavilion DV2, and if I could get it going… well, peachy. So off to Google I went.

To cut an inordinately long story short I found out that:

  1. There was a class action suit against HP for the bad design of the Pavilion series.
  2. It was the GPU that had the problem, and that most excitingly:
  3. it was fixable!

Ah ha! I thought. A viable project. All I had to do was take the laptop apart, reflow the GPU, and reassemble it. Easy-peasy, and very Maker-ish.

There are oodles of video’s on showing exactly how you should reflow a GPU on a Pavilion motherboard. The thing is that none of these videos agree on how to do it. The concept is that because the design was flawed, the GPU got very hot. The hotter it got, the hotter all its solder connections became until, eventually, they fail. To reflow means heating up the GPU chip until the solder joints sort themselves out. Well, ish.

There are three methods I came across. The first, which I instantly decided against, was to put the motherboard in the oven on gas mark 6 for 20 minutes – this is not a joke. The second was to buy the pro kit needed to do the job properly. That was out for financial reasons. So I went for the third: using a miniature propane torch to heat the chip. It sounded the least mad and the most affordable. So I dismantled the laptop in preparation….

Two months later I finally got the propane torch and the tube of liquid heat sink required. I dusted off the motherboard, and, with heart in mouth, fired up the torch.

Letting it cool is an anxious time, as is testing it. Nothing.

I tried again. Nothing.

Back to Google where I found a thread that suggested anybody who tries reflowing their GPU is mad, if not carted away in a straight jacket certifiable.

Grumbling and in a last fit of pique, I trotted downstairs, grabbed the big kitchen Crème brûlée blowtorch and had at the motherboard with that. There might have been some  pleading, intermingled with cursing, involved, too. Nothing. Nothing, nada, nowt, dead as a dodo.

So there you have it. Although I’m no better off as far as laptops go, it has been a fun, if fruitless, afternoon. 🙂




Ive and the Apple.

Ive – flung out with the potato peelings.

I was more than rather amazed when I came across this red iMac flung out on the pavement, smashed.

That this icon of uber-chic design from Jonathan Ive — the heart to Steve Job’s brain of Apple — was simply flung out on the pavement shocked me. I walked away wondering what Ive would say.  Would he care, and more’s the point, why did I? I took the photo and walked on, looking back a couple of times to make sure I hadn’t been dreaming. No, the smashed red iMac was still there.

I’ve worked in ‘media’ and when I did we used nothing but Apple products. Apple is lauded for it aesthetics, and that the majority of artsy-fartsy types use their computers. Pragmatically Apple and the arts work well together. Music, design, photography, et all use Apple kit (I use a G5 for music). From a visual point of view it can’t be beaten, and that is all down to Jonathan Ive’s eye. Yes, Steve Jobs might have made Apple the power house it is today, but he’d never have achieved it had it not been for Ive’s designs.

Yet, since Job’s untimely death, Apple has started to become something else. Rapaciously litigious comes close to describing their present philosophy. And, when comparing the iPhone to the stunningly beautiful Samsung Galaxy, Ive has, in my view, lost the plot.

Maybe Apple has reached the point of obsolescence in its design. Maybe Ive has had his day — though I’d like to think not. Maybe the entire magic of Apple relied on the relationship between Jobs and Ive, and now that Jobs is gone so has the magic spark?

I reached the end of the street and turned back one last time. The red iMac was still there: it hadn’t been a dream.

It was as if I’d come across a Ferrari in a scrap yard; A diamond flung out with the night soil. Shaken, I walked on. It was obviously time to see if the charity shop had any Apples. 😉

Hockney 2012 – exhibition at the Royal Academy

David Hockney's invitation


David Hockney, without doubt one of our greatest living artists, is exhibiting a series of landscapes at the Royal Academy (21st January – 9th April). The exhibition is part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, but why is it ending so soon? You’d think it would run through the games as an alternative for those who dislike synchronised swimming. “That’s me!” 😉

Ever since I first saw ‘A Bigger Splash‘ Hockney has interested me. Now, at seventy four, he has embraced technology to the extent of working on an iPad. I wonder what apps he uses?

Kamakura Sussex

Reverie and thought


I was cleaning my netbook earlier. It was making these weird noises as if it was choking, and on taking it apart I found the fan was full of dust and muck. So I cleaned it and then looked at it. Really looked at it. And I went off on a reverie.

Pretty much all I do, all I think and all I create is contained on the hard drive in the picture above. And it suddenly struck me as how remarkable that was, and how fast it’s happened. How incredibly fast.

Take music. When I first got into music there was tape. To record anything of worth you HAD to rent a recording studio, and the equipment therein cost a small fortune – literally. Tracks were laid down on damn great reels of expensive two inch tape and mastered onto reels of quarter inch tape … and there was tape hiss. Oh, if you had another small fortune you could remove most of it, but never all. Hiss was part and parcel of recording, then.

Computers took a while to infiltrate. But the incredible thing was that the programs you used were elegant and tiny. They had to be because RAM was finite, and again, cost an arm and a leg.

Now, any idiot with a laptop can record an album. Without tape hiss. Without tape. Now programs are huge and bloated because elegant code doesn’t matter anymore – RAM is cheap.


Then: longhand delivered for someone to type out. Edit it with red pen and re-type. Rinse and repeat. To become a writer you really had to want to write!

Now: open up program of choice and off you go. A gazillion websites inflate ‘writers’ egos. Some even make it. NaNoWriMo (I’ll say no more).


Then: actual film stock. Twenty four or thirty six shots on a roll. Develop and print in a darkroom.

Now: digital. Snap as many as you want because you’re bound to find one good, usable shot. If not, photoshop it. Bing bang boom, done and dusted. Deliver the ‘product’ by email. No more messengers on motorbikes.


Then: actual film and cameras and crews, etc.

Now: digital cameras and storage. Make a documentary during lunch; a feature film over the weekend. Edit at home (oh, and write the music too, if you fancy it).

Those bits and bobs stuck to the motherboard behind the hard drive in the photo above are enablers. Art is no longer precious or special. Art is everymans and everyman is an artist.

This blog wouldn’t be here without my baby netbook. Neither would my music be available all over the world, or Midnight Dude, the book I wrote a story for and typeset.

I wouldn’t know the wonderful (albeit virtual) people and friends I’ve met on-line, and I wouldn’t have websites to visit and loiter away my life on….

It was at this point my reverie ended. I looked at the cat as I put the back cover on and fumbled with its screws. Percy’s real. He’s not an avatar. Neither is he a trainable toy that follows me around the house meowling until, in a fit of pique, I remove the batteries.

I look out of the window. The garden fence I fixed this morning is still standing. Its real, not virtual. As am I, for my sins. But with the rate of change; with the rate of human invention, for how long? How long will it be until I’m just a virtual plaything? How long before the real and the virtual blur so much it becomes impossible to tell the difference?

Without a shadow of a doubt computers have changed our lives; my life. But is it really for the better, or should the Luddites rise again before it is too late?

Me and Johnny Seven

Johnny Seven OMA

I read a poem today about the loss of a friend during the Vietnam war. It was beautifully written, and dredged up a memory,  a very strong memory, of when I was seven.

My father has business in America and Canada and decided to take my mother and me along.  It was the late sixties and Vietnam was a very delicate subject in the U.S.. I, of course, only wanted one thing: a Johnny Seven OMA (that’s one man army for those not in the know). I wanted one, I wanted one, I wanted one! I also knew how to play my parents; it was the one subject I excelled in.

We ended up at ‘Swartz‘ on fifth avenue. It’s gone, now, but back then they called themselves ‘the best toyshop in the world’.  It was a huge shop, but no Johnny Sevens in sight. We traipsed from floor to floor and I was getting close to the point of hysteria when my father finally decided to enquire at the counter. Quietly, we were told they had them in stock, but because of Vietnam they were kept hidden under the counter.

I was told off for shooting guests in the hotel corridors. Later that week we went to stay at a friends house in the country, somewhere in upper New York. I had a splendid time – probably being a brat. I ran around pretending to kill people, while kids not much older than I was were actually doing it for real. But I was seven, war was exciting, and it didn’t seem perverse. Pretense is all very well, but I now thank the gods I wasn’t born ten years earlier and in the U.S.A..

In 2011 the last veteran of the first world war died. We now have no one to talk to about that horrific world changing event, and soon, if we’re not very careful, it’ll be forgotten.

The second world war and other wars will inevitably follow…. Then, one day, the only idea of the horror of warfare will come from those playing video games. Already they have taken over from kids roaming the streets with gun shaped bits of wood howling “Peow, peow, peow!” and falling over pretending to be dead. Maybe it’s a good thing, too.


RIP Steve

Steve Jobs 1955 - 2011

I never met him, but he changed my world profoundly.

I remember watching the 1984 ad for the macintosh at the Odeon Leicester Square – I can’t remember the film I went to see, but the advert was stunning.

Later I spent a small fortune on an LCII, bought a G4 when they first came out, and I still have an old G5 at the heart of my studio. I’d like to update, but sadly can’t afford to.

Apple changed the face of music and video production, which, for me, is the key to why I feel so sorry Steve has gone. But more importantly: Tim Berners-Lee designed and ran the first true iteration of the WWW (at CERN) on a NExT computer and NExT was Steve Jobs – as NExT was a lot of the interior of the new generation Macs (OSX) once Jobs rejoined Apple.